— With the New Year upon us, everyone seems to be writing 2013 prediction columns. So I thought I would join the parade. Here are my 13 AL East predictions for ‘13.
1. The Yankees won’t make the playoffs.
New York has a decent starting rotation that includes CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte. And don’t forget about Michael Pineda, who should return in May or June. He still has the potential to be one of the top young starters in baseball.
But the Yankees lineup, which averaged 2.2 runs in 10 postseason games last year, lacks power. The Bronx Bombers certainly will miss an injured Alex Rodriguez and also Nick Swisher, who signed with the Cleveland Indians.
2. Toronto will win the AL East.
I love the addition of 2012 National League Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey, who should be exciting to watch because he throws his knuckleball harder than most and led the NL in strikeouts (230) last year. His knuckleball averaged out at 77.1 mph last year, according to fangraphs.com. Tim Wakefield’s averaged at 66.5 mph during the final 10 years of his career.
With Dickey, Brandon Morrow, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and Ricky Romero, Toronto has the third best rotation in the AL behind Detroit and Tampa Bay. The Jays have a pretty darn good offense, too.
3. Mariano Rivera will win Comeback Player of the Year.
After missing most of last year with a torn ACL, the Yankees closer will save 30 or more games and have an ERA between 2.00 and 2.50.
Rivera is 43 years old but he only has gotten better with age. Since his 38th birthday, he has posted a 1.72 ERA.
4. Tampa’s Evan Longoria will win AL MVP.
Move over Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout. If Longoria can stay healthy, there is no reason he shouldn’t have his best season statistically.
After all, if power-hitting prospect Wil Myers, who the Rays acquired from the Royals for starter James Shields, is the real deal, then Longoria will have more protection than he has ever had in the middle of the Rays lineup.
5. Jon Lester will win 18 games.
After posting a 3.37 ERA combined from 2009-11, Lester went 9-14 with a 4.82 ERA this past year. But new Sox skipper John Farrell, Lester’s former pitching coach, already said he saw obvious flaws in Lester’s delivery last year, making you think the southpaw can rebound in ‘13.
Let’s not forget that in 2007, then 28-year-old left-hander Cliff Lee posted a 6.29 ERA in 20 games, 16 starts, for Cleveland before winning the AL Cy Young in 2008 by leading the league in wins (22), ERA (2.54) and shutouts (2).
6. Tampa and Toronto will be only two AL East teams to make the playoffs.
With an extra Wild Card installed in ‘12, there is a chance three teams from the AL East could make the playoffs. But Tampa and Toronto are the only two that will.
Tampa’s pitching staff ranked first in ERA (3.19), strikeouts (1,383) and opponent batting average (.228) among AL staffs last year. Even without Shields, the Rays have enough starting pitching to lead in multiple statistical categories again.
Expect 24-year-old right-hander Chris Archer, who Baseball America ranked the No. 1 prospect in the Rays system, to take Shields’ spot in the rotation. Archer features a very good slider and a fastball that averaged 93.9 mph in his 29.1 innings in the majors last year.
Matt Moore should also be even better this year. Moore, 23, posted a 3.01 post-All-Star Break ERA last year.
7. Someone unexpected will emerge in the Sox rotation.
Either Junichi Tazawa, Rubby De La Rosa or Allen Webster will find his way into the Red Sox rotation and emerge as a legit starter.
Tazawa seems primed for a set-up role in the bullpen, but he is eligible for another option year unlike several other Boston relievers. If for that reason he winds up in Pawtucket to start the year, then why not make him a starter?
Webster probably will begin the year with Double-A Portland but there is a possibility he could be ready for the big leagues later in the season.
8. Baltimore will take a step back and miss the playoffs.
The Orioles had an amazing ‘12 run, but expect them to take a step back because their starting pitching won’t perform as well as it did in ‘12.
Miguel Gonzalez was fantastic story a year ago, but it is tough to believe he and others can keep it up.
The O’s should stay competitive though, and 20-year-old third baseman Manny Machado will grab many headlines.
9. Kevin Youkilis will spend at least 40 games on the DL.
The new Yankees third baseman has played in just 344 out of a possible 486 the past three seasons. He will continue to break down physically at third base this year.
He should have found a job somewhere as a first baseman or DH.
10. Brandon Morrow will emerge as Toronto’s true ace.
The 28-year-old has tremendous potential if he can keep from getting injured. Last year, he posted a 2.96 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 10 wins in 21 starts.
11. Jacoby Ellsbury will be an All-Star.
The Red Sox center fielder played in just 74 games last year because of a subluxed shoulder and when he did play, he hit .271 with a 682 OPS. He spent all but 18 games on the DL in 2010 because of broken ribs.
But between those two seasons was a massively impressive 2011 in which he batted .321 with a .928 OPS and finished second in the AL MVP vote.
With free agency approaching at the end of this upcoming season and a big contract within reach, expect for Ellsbury to return to All-Star form.
New Sox shortstop Stephen Drew could very well have a big year, too.
12. Jose Reyes will finish in the top three in batting average.
The new Blue Jays shortstop is hitting .643 with a 1.643 OPS at Rogers Centre during his career, but there is a catch — he only has had 14 at-bats there.
All kidding aside, Reyes joins a pretty strong lineup that includes Jose Bautista (if wrist is ready) and Edwin Encarnacion, and he should compete for an AL batting crown.
13. The Red Sox will win 15 to 20 more games than they did in 2012.
If Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz pitch the way they are capable, and Jacoby Ellsbury posts All-Star numbers, there is no reason the Red Sox shouldn’t be in the hunt for a Wild Card spot in September.
But don’t expect them to make the playoffs in a deep American League.